CAS Elementary Student Leadership Conferences Surpass Expectations!

By Dave Maloney, CAS Assistant Executive Director


Imagine this…

The time is 9:30 and a large group of elementary school children is entering your breakout session at the annual leadership conference.  You can hear and genuinely feel their energy!  But, you are a first-time presenter and a zillion nervous thoughts stream through your cerebrum.  And, you are a senior in high school!

“I wasn’t sure how much they would be interested in the idea of leadership, but they sure surprised me! Every student in my first group eagerly paid attention to the activities that I had planned.  I was amazed how they were able to take out (of the activities) exactly what I had planned.  They all were so interested, receptive and willing to use their minds so well.”

Such was the reflective feedback from Mackenzie Satalino, a student leader from CT International Baccalaureate in East Hartford, who presented to elementary students at Sacred Heart University.

Her classmate, Megan Leubner, noted, “Teaching young students how to communicate effectively was an incredibly rewarding experience.  Seeing their faces light up when they were doing activities made me remember how excited I get at leadership conferences.  The positive energy created at these events is a huge part of what inspires and motivates hundreds of kids across the state to get involved for the betterment of their school.”

Teachers echoed the high school student leaders’ assessment with the following: “As an advisor, I visited the breakout sessions and all had enthusiastic facilitators who really took time to help students feel good about their decisions and problem solving strategies.”

One participant commented, “I loved the location.  Being independent was so cool when we were walking by ourselves to each class in the college!”  Another remarked, “I loved the day.  I was having fun and learning how to be a problem solver at the same time.”

The above comments were excerpted from evaluations of the 21st Annual C.A.S. Elementary Leadership Conferences held at Sacred Heart University, Naugatuck, Asnuntuck, and Three Rivers Community Colleges during the second week in January.  Over 875 children in grades 4 through 6 from 110 schools participated in these events which are built around 21st century leadership skills.  CAS Director of Student Activities Dave Maloney describes the conferences as “unique, interactive learning activities that are not commonly part of an already over-crowded elementary curriculum.  Yet, the featured topics do a nice job supporting the good work taking place in our elementary schools.”

Each conference stressed the acquisition of four leadership skills: productive thinking, decision making, creative problem solving, and communication.  Students were divided into groups and assigned to breakout sessions that covered these skills with a variety of approaches.  From competitive games to art to solving problems to large and small group activities, students couldn’t wait to see what their presenters had in store for them.  The presenters – all volunteers from across the state – included high school student leaders as well as full-time faculty, administrators and even parents!  A teacher chaperone noted, “The day was awesome.  It exceeded expectations.  Our staff and student leaders acquired lots of new ideas that we plan to bring back and immediately implement into our programs.  We also got a long list of activities from the advisor workshop that we can implement as part of our school climate planning process.”

The CAS Elementary Leadership Committee, co-chaired by Karen Brimecombe, Lauren Elias, Eileen Roxbee and Mary Giard, recruited the presenters and planned the program at each venue, which served the dual purpose of a “college visit” for elementary students.

The goal of the conference is to demonstrate the use of a multi-dimensional approach to help each student find his/her best way of developing leadership skills.  As Karen Brimecombe, retired principal of John Lyman Elementary School in Middlefield, noted in her opening comments at Asnuntuck Community College, “Our purpose today is to provide you with opportunities to enhance your skills to be more effective leaders in your schools.  Every class and every school has positive student leaders who can improve the day-to-day experiences contributing to a positive school climate.”

While students were in their breakouts, parent chaperones had an opportunity to explore how they might contribute and develop leadership skills in their children.  Jenn Buckley, a new assistant working with Maloney on student activities, facilitated the parent sessions.  Faculty advisors also had a separate session, sharing what their student councils are doing to improve the climate of their schools.  CAS Committee members Harry Gagliardi, Eileen Roxbee, Mary Giard, Lauren Elias, Mary Sue Feige and Bob Garry joined Brimecombe and Maloney as teachers developed a list of “best practices/ projects” that students are engaged in across the state.

Heather Torpey, manager of school programming at the Discovery Center, commented that her staff was so excited to be invited back this year that they created an additional breakout session.  “We had to figure out a way to be sure that the office was covered because everyone wanted to work with these outstanding students.  I am amazed at their thinking abilities!”

And Janice Mayeran, a PE teacher in Fairfield, added, “I left SHU with such good vibes!!!!!!!!  I feel that it was my best presentation at a leadership conference ever!  The closing statements within my group hit all the points I wanted the students to take away!  It was so amazing to hear the exact bullet points I had written down reiterated to me.  Amazing!”

The thinking abilities of our children are such valuable resources for our schools and communities.  To predict things that might happen and to effectively look into the future, children need to know what the details of the situation are; what must be considered before action is taken; what the effects of the actions will be; and how the actions might affect others.

By all accounts, the 2014 elementary leadership conferences have surpassed everybody’s expectations; even if some high school student leaders had nervous butterflies!